The River is one freaky trip.
Part Lost, part Paranormal Activity and part National Geographic special, The River manages to combine a creepy mystery with genuine jump-out-of-your-seat thrills and unusual style. Mostly, this is good — The River will totally freak you out. In the best possible way.
On the River
The River follows an expedition trekking into the Amazon basin to find a missing TV naturalist, Dr. Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood).
Six months before the events of the show, Cole — think the Crocodile Hunter, only on a boat called the Magus — and his film crew disappeared. Cole’s old TV network, hoping for a reality-show hit to exploit, has recruited Cole’s wife, Tess (Leslie Hope), and son, Lincoln (Joe Anderson), for a filmed search mission.
They quickly find out that Cole’s TV catchphrase, “There’s magic out there!” is surprisingly accurate. Within days of beginning the expedition, the group begins to experience strange, terrifying and occasionally deadly events.
In spite of — and also because of — these paranormal activities, the group presses on.
The executive producers include Oren Peli (who basically perfected the found-footage/horror genre with the Paranormal Activity movies) and Steven Spielberg.
For all its gimmicky horror and found-footage style, The River is a compelling story. The bizarre mysteries and twisted emotions are enough to carry a viewer to the end.
What was Emmet Cole up to before he vanished? Whose agenda is truly dictating the mission? Where the heck are these people? Even if no ghosts/spirits/creepy insect things ever showed up, The River provides plenty of entertainment in the answers to these questions.
The conflicting emotions of the expedition’s members create even more non-horror drama. Emmet, Tess and Lincoln Cole, once a happy TV family watched weekly by the world, have been fragmented for years. Emmet Cole’s longtime producer, Clark Quietly (Paul Blackthorne), is a manipulative and charming mercenary who wants nothing more than the footage needed for a compelling reality show. Kurt Brynildson (Thomas Kretschmann), the expedition’s security specialist, has dangerous and hidden secrets. Cole’s longtime engineer Emilio (Daniel Zacapa) is torn between a desire to find Emmet and a need to protect his vaguely psychic teenage daughter, Jahel (Paulina Gaitan).
Also, The River is scary. Really, really scary. This is a definite good.
There isn’t all that much bad to be had in The River. It’s not a perfect show, certainly — the jerky, disconnected camera work alone might turn off many viewers.
Some of the casting is odd as well. Eloise Mumford’s Lena (the daughter of a missing cameraman) seems a little too bland and fluffy for her tough-girl part. Joe Anderson’s Lincoln, while giving a compelling performance, doesn’t have quite the look you would expect for the show’s hero. He’s more of a tragic heroin-addict type.
The River may also suffer from heavy serialization. The eight episodes planned for season 1 will focus on an ongoing trip through the Amazon. You could definitely turn in midseason for some thrills, but the story requires dedication.
The River is scary. This cannot be stressed enough.
None of the characters really know what’s going on — they’re sailing directly into an unknown that pretty much wants them dead. The fear felt on the screen translates well to the audience, as handheld cameras run through a dark jungle and characters fall to unseen monster attacks.
And then there are the things that go bump in the Amazon night. Don’t look for any monsters with pointy teeth in The River. Instead, the show’s menacing beings take quieter and infinitely more sinister forms. A simple, oddly shaped wooden box holds death inside (literally). Bizarre insects may carry more than venom in their bites. A tree covered with creepy dolls is… Well, it’s just about what you would expect from a tree covered with creepy dolls.
But The River does remember that it’s a TV show and not a horror movie. Since the thrills cannot scare away the audience completely, The River‘s freakiness comes in small doses, quickly faced by the search party, before moving on to new horrors.
Not all of the freakiness is terrifying either. Some — like footage of a character walking on water — is merely intriguing.
The good, bad and freaky qualities of The River add up to an unusually compelling television experience. This probably is not a show for everyone. But the dark mysteries and pure thrills of The River should be just about perfect for some.
The River premieres on Tuesday, February 7 at 9pm on ABC.
(Image courtesy of ABC)